The only real guarantee emerging from the EU’s youth guarantee scheme is that, while it may succeed elsewhere, it is guaranteed to fail in Ireland unless the Government gets serious about funding it properly.
Under the scheme, due to begin next year, all under-25s must be given an offer of high quality employment, education or training within four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education.
A summit of EU leaders gathered in Paris yesterday to put the guarantee into practice and Enda Kenny was among those who attended.
Youth unemployment is the most important issue facing the EU where more than 5.5m people under the age of 25 are unemployed. The highest rate is in Greece at 57%, while in Ireland the rate is 28%.
So, what can be done? We need look no farther than our near neighbours. Separate youth guarantee schemes have been in operation in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Austria.
In 1984, Sweden introduced the first genuine youth guarantee, followed by Norway in 1993 and Denmark and Finland in 1996. Difficulties were encountered in maintaining these schemes through the recession of the early 1990s, so they had to be revised and upgraded.
The one thing these successful schemes share is the determination to fully fund them and to ensure they are fit for purpose.
Considering that the Government already cut youth services by €35m in Budget 2014 and has set aside a paltry sum for youth guarantee next year, it is unlikely that we can go anywhere near matching those efforts.
On the basis of the Swedish figures, it is estimated it would cost €273m to implement a similar scheme in Ireland, albeit paid out over a number of years. The Government has so far set aside only €14m. Even if that figure is matched by EU funds, it still only amounts to little more than 10% being spent in Sweden.
There is also the danger that the guarantee will encourage the proliferation of badly paid or unpaid internships. With a ready supply of cheap interns, employers might decrease the availability of regular jobs.
According to the National Youth Council of Ireland, “the impact of unemployment on young people and the social and economic cost associated with youth unemployment are of significant concern and require immediate action”.
That’s putting it mildly.
By and large, young people are active, passionate, motivated, and determined. If they have something worthwhile to do, their youth and vigour will help them do that. However, if they are left to lie idle, the danger is their energy will be put to destructive use.
That is what happened in Germany in the inter-war years. By 1932, over 30% of the German workforce was unemployed and youth unemployment was more than 50%. In the 1933 election campaign, Adolf Hitler promised that if he won he would abolish unemployment. That is what brought him to power and, eventually, brought the world to the brink of destruction.
Youth unemployment doesn’t just concern the young — it is a serious issue for us all.
We ignore it at our peril.
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